January 11, 2013

New Year, New ideas...and a few old ones too!

Over the Christmas holidays I decided to rearrange my room - yet again. To those who have worked with me over the years this is nothing new, but for each year of students it is! Change, even small ones, to the spaces we work in can have that "sparking" effect that is needed. It reminds them (and us) that there is always the potential for excitement and freshness, you never know what to expect. In schools I would think that this is partcularly important. Yes this can be achieved in many ways and we don't need to always lift heavy furniture around; however we certainly don't have to keep things as they always are, especially if something isn't working the way we want it to. Do you use your filing cabinet? If not, then get rid of it, it's just wasting space! There is something to be said for the unexpected changes which can create new pathways for what lies ahead...and sometimes it causes us also to reflect on the past. This is what happened for me today.

student made stained-glass covering our classroom window

This morning I was welcoming my students with some announcements as I sat at a newly positionned round table, the Sun was shining through our stained glass windows that we had made at the beginning of September and it reminded me of all that we have done so far in this school year. It also made me think about what else we might be able to accomplish together. I haven't blogged about most of what has happened this new school year because I have been busy with other new adventures: organizing a conference, joining a new network/learning team about Learning in Depth, and moving into a new house. 

When I was trying to decide at the end of the summer about what direction to go this year, the pressure was certainly on because many teachers and students had been asking me at the end of June, "What are you going to do next year?" I wasn't sure. My last year had been a real success with the Island theme I chose, and before that I had done a Medieval theme. I decided to go with my Medieval theme again because I felt like there was much more I could do with it and it worked so well with the curriculum that I am teaching again this year. (Teaching a combined grade means that we typically use a 2 year academic plan.) 

Well, time was running short, and my own daughter - who was about to find out that she was going to be a student in my class said to me, " Aw, you're going to do that old stuff again!" My heart sank, but I knew that I could bring it to life again and even make her love it, she just didn't know it yet. As I said previously, there is always the potential for excitement and freshness, even with something that has been done before. Besides, I knew it could never be exactly the same, because this was going to be a new group of students. And why shouldn't they get a fun "Medieval" experience that another group had a few years prior? My own anticipation grew as the days of school grew near. I got to work planning the "entrance" to the kingdom by covering and painting my classroom door with a sign attached that reads, "Welcome to the Kingdom of Imagination", and by altering my desk to make it look like a mini castle.

Medieval King Sclater
Medieval halloween outfit

As a fun way to greet my students last year I met them with passports, dressed in a Hawaiian outfit, welcoming them to a journey to "The Island". This year, I came dressed as a Medieval King, crown and all. This is something I never did last time and I think it set things up well and got the students really excited about our year together. I also had made up some ancient scrolls to welcome the students on the first day of classes and set the stage for our experiences together for the year (see below). 

writing on the scrolls given to students

In the first week we started to transform the classroom more and make it come to life with our "water wall" and "stained glass" windows. The students had full control and input as to what images they worked on and who they would work with.

student paintings on our Medieval waterwall

cabinet transformed into a "treasure chest"
my castle desk in progress

As I sat back at my desk today, I scanned the room and was pleased at what I saw, but I wasn't focused on all the Medieval imagery in the room. I saw my students enjoying themselves in the freedom of our classroom space. I observed a number of students working at their own desks on various projects; a small group of girls sharing ideas about their stories around the round table at the side of the room (where my desk used to be); a few boys gathered around the tall table near the coat area figuring out what drawings they are working on (this also doubles as our ping pong table at Recess and Lunch); a few students on the carpet in the reading area at the back of the room were finding some alone time; a couple of girls were working at the low, long rectangular table (which is often used as a chess playing and card games area); and others still sprawled out in the open area of the carpeted floor in the middle of the room. You might get the idea that this was a very unstructured time. Most definitely yes, but so much getting accomplished!! What would it look like if all the desks were in rows and there were no spaces to move around in or work with others? Not fun, I'll tell you that! My suggestion - Change it! 

I have tried to create a space within the classroom at the beginning of the school year where the imagination can grow and anything is possible. I am even more thankful for what I saw today in my classroom. I realized that if I hadn't moved my desk over the Christmas holidays and rearranged a few things; I would have never sat down at the table, near the stained glass windows, and reflected on the experiences I have had so far with my new group of students and just enjoyed the moment:) I am inspired once again to look forward to new possibilities!